I’m getting very tired of this. Sometimes I am afraid of the person I am stuck with in this house during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
I am afraid because he yells at me a lot. Sometimes I yell back, of course, but his yelling is louder than mine and more full of hostility. If he ever hit me, it would hurt.
Last night I woke up in the darkness with his dream voice bombarding my mind, playing over and over: “I have explained it to you twice, and you aren’t listening.” As usual, his reprimanding tone felt deprecating and hostile with this implication: “What’s wrong with you anyway? You’re not listening like a good Quaker should.” At dinner yesterday, I had challenged something he said that didn’t jive with my understanding of historical Friends’ Faith and Practice.
This mature man blithely ignores his own tone of voice. In his effort to make himself feel better, to relieve whatever tension is building up inside him, he takes it out on the person he lives with. But he would not admit that this is what he is doing. He has never hit me; he says he can’t stand violence; but often I can sense the urge within his body to push me around.
I am trying to understand what I could say or not say that would persuade him to stop putting me down. He is always quick to counter anything I say and usually manages to find fault with it. He has a deep need to be always right. Never have I heard him use that same tone of voice with anyone else – certainly no one in our Quaker community.
This man, who yells at and demeans his intimate partner at home, is a leader among unprogrammed Friends. Friends who know him, who know us, would be disbelieving if details of his actions towards me were revealed. His public persona is carefully cultivated, and I do nothing to undermine his reputation.
Most of us are still learning how to deal with the insecurities of our times. But resorting to what comes easily – barking at the person we live with – is not a good response.
I have decided not to confront him for now, about our conversation yesterday. But someday, I intend to ask, “What would you prefer that a person say or ask if they don’t understand – or if they question – your version of the truth? What is your idea of ‘Listening?’”
Because of the lockdowns resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been many months since I have had freedom of movement and association with other humans. I feel like I’ve worn out my list of old friends and family members who are willing to talk with me by whatever means we can use. I am seeing that there is a limit to our pretense that we are coping well in this pandemic.
There is a shelter for abused women in our town, but of course, it can’t take anyone new during this lockdown. I guess I could drive to a hotel and check in. We have two cars and driving is not forbidden, just discouraged, unless for an important reason. But things are not that bad yet.
So far, I have not seen anything in Quaker pamphlets or books or on-line resources that teach Friends how to deal with domestic emotional and psychological violence within the context of Quaker tradition and testimonies. Abuse of any kind among Friends towards intimates is simply too far out for most Friends to contemplate.
The dynamic I am referring to here is hidden, not spoken about within Quaker culture. I believe the subject would be met with profound skepticism if I brought it up in a meeting context. Is it too scary and embarrassing to admit? Even I, someone who is not known as shy or timid, am chicken when it comes to outing this situation.
My most common reaction is to stay quiet, not aggravate him, leave the room, or go for a walk. In an effort to stay centered, I practice my own type of meditation and really look at my surroundings. I try to see the trees, the flowers, the green grasses in a fresh way. I try to let wonder and appreciation prevail in my own mind. Often, I change my mood by leaning into fingers on my piano with familiar classical music. Sometimes this works, but today I am feeling sad, uneasy, and trapped.
As I write in mid-May, news reports are starting to include more stories about violence against women, based in part on a sharp uptick in 911 calls about domestic partner abuse.
Most of us in our meeting are retired. We magically still get automatic deposits into our bank accounts, so money is not a big issue for most people in my meeting. However, I am aware that many folks in my community are still out of work and many are unlikely to be rehired. Not everyone is getting government relief and if they are, it’s not enough. Many have been working from home while their children are required to stay at home, too. These parents are expected to cooperate with home schooling as well as continue their daily work or search for work or financial safeguards. I expect that these circumstances are aggravating factors in the recent surge in domestic abuse. I fear for the children who are witnessing this and might themselves become the brunt of it.
I doubt that Friends will dig in any time soon to examine the continuous and prevailing tradition of domination in some Friendly homes, which I expect occurs in same-gender couples as much as in any relationships. There should be no place for abuse of any kind in any home.
It exasperates me that even a hint of these attitudes and behaviors still exists in the year 2020. We’ve all been through the second wave of Feminism, the #metoo movement, and sincere attempts by many men to mend their ways and move away from the patriarchal legacy.
I pray that Friends might someday find a way of calling upon our history and traditions to counter this development in our global, national and community cultures, to develop instead more Friendly ways of domestic life, based on kindness. ~~~